- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gilbert Arenas, the part-time doctor, trainer and player-coach of the Wizards, has cleared himself to play this weekend.

That is the only clearance needed, although interim coach Ed Tapscott could be heard equivocating, tempering, downplaying and speaking of a “process” to follow.

Not that Arenas ever has followed a process other than what strikes his fancy at a particular moment.

The news that Arenas is looking to appear in five or six of the team’s last 10 games is encouraging despite its anticlimactic nature. Arenas was destined to return in December and then January before it became anyone’s guess and a season was flushed to the netherworld of the NBA.

The Wizards are down to Antawn Jamison, a couple of role players and a couple of others on loan from the NBDL. The results are mind-numbingly predictable, the tedium thankfully interrupted by the special news bulletin from Arenas.

Thoughts already are on next season, which no doubt is an element of Arenas’ motivation to hit the floor in a genuine NBA setting. He undoubtedly has as many doubts as the rest of us and would like to resolve at least a few of them before going into what promises to be a busy offseason.

The Wizards have received a hard look at what they previously thought was a deep roster. Alas, it is not even wading-pool deep.

The Wizards’ roster can be divided into three parts, starting with the principal pieces of Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler.

JaVale McGee, Darius Songaila, Brendan Haywood, Dominic McGuire and Javaris Crittenton either have a certain utility or enough potential to prompt thoughts of what could be.

The rest of the roster is either deadwood, too limited or unprofessional.

It is possible Arenas’ return will undermine the Wizards’ lottery prospects and their chance to select Blake Griffin. That is no small concern. The Spurs did not become what they are entirely because of a brainy front office.

They became one of the model franchises of the NBA because of David Robinson missing 76 games in the 1996-97 season, the team finishing with a 20-62 record and then winning the right to select Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in the draft that summer.

With Robinson and Duncan the next season, the Spurs won 56 games. They won their first of four NBA championships the season after that, just two seasons after being 20-win hopeless.

If prodded to weigh the possibility of securing Griffin against the benefit of seeing where Arenas is, Grunfeld is obligated to come down on the side of what is in hand.

Arenas is the franchise player, after all. The future of the franchise is dependent on him. Abbreviated answers on his physical state are necessary in order to get an inkling on how to proceed. Besides, playing the lottery game can be as unfulfilling as a three-day stay in Las Vegas, as the Celtics discovered two years ago.

The Celtics led the NBA in tanking games in 2007 and still landed with only the No. 5 pick overall in the draft. That showed them. Or so it seemed until they won the championship last season.

A five- or six-game look at Arenas will not determine whether he can return to his All-Star self. But it will be a peek that could reassure everyone from Grunfeld to those wondering whether to keep their season tickets next season.

The prospect of Arenas eventually returning to form will not be known until possibly two months into next season, and that is only if his left knee responds favorably to stretches in the schedule that tax the most physically able.

Arenas will need about two months of game conditions to hone his instincts and explosiveness and strengthen his perimeter-shooting legs.

If he passes that period without a setback - regardless of his quality of play - then Grunfeld and the Wizards will be able to let out a small sigh of relief.

Until then, the impending sneak preview will have to satisfy.

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